A bad decision underlined by planning flaws

Former Bayswater councillor Chris Cornish still keeps an eye on local government, and was taken aback by City of Perth commissioners’ support for Brookfield’s over-sized Elizabeth Quay towers as “a political response” to the impact of Covid-19 on WA’s economy. In this week’s Speaker’s Corner he dissects three failings of a flimsy planning system. 

LAST week’s Perth Voice article, “Corona Towers” (April 11, 2020) highlights a number of failings with WA’s planning legislation and implementation. 

The first is the explanation provided from the state government-appointed chair commissioner at the City of Perth, Andrew Hammond, for his support of the two new Elizabeth Quay towers. 

Specifically that it is a “political response to the Covid crisis”, which begs the question as to whether any state politician, or their representative, has approached the commissioner and lobbied on behalf of the developer.

Regardless of the answer though, Covid-19 is not a proper planning consideration on which to support this development, and should not be used to override the expert officer’s views.

The second is the feeble protections that currently exist in ensuring that appropriate developments occur.

The Elizabeth Quay Design Guidelines allow for variations to building heights where “innovation and exemplary design quality can be demonstrated to have a positive impact on the project area and the city skyline as a whole”. 

Yet the City of Perth officer’s report to the commissioners states that the development “will impact on the amenity and enjoyment of this important public space within Elizabeth Quay” and “the numerous variations sought by the applicant should not be supported until the architectural and civic outcomes of the design are of sufficient quality that they meet the criteria for design excellence”. 

Despite this, a building almost double what was envisaged for the area has been unanimously recommended for approval by Commrs Andrew Hammond, Gaye McMath and Len Kosova.

The third failing is how easily the planning system can be gamed.

An alternate, more expensive, 56-storey design from the developer was granted in-principal support in 2017.

The officer’s at the time wrote: “[It] has the potential to create a landmark development for the city. The development will also contribute to the precinct in terms of providing significant areas of public space…”. 

When questioned in the recent council meeting for the reasons for why the developer was seeking an allowance for extra height on the latest proposal, the City of Perth planning officer responded that there were “no clear reasons stated beyond initial in-principal approval which had a similar height building”.

So, submit an awesome design and get support, then a couple of years later, submit a lesser design and get approval with a similar height based upon getting the initial approval. 

Illogical to most people that this can work, but there you have it.  It does and I have observed this strategy in action numerous times.

In this particular instance, the City of Perth are merely providing a recommendation to DevelopmentWA who will be the ultimate decision makers. 

However one would hope there is weight placed on the city’s recommendation otherwise it is just red tape and the requirement for it to go via a local government authority should be removed. 

I personally don’t care either way, I just want to see a consistent approach where everyone operates on a level playing field. 

Sadly, this is not the case and too many planning decisions are based on ad-hoc, subjective and spurious rationales.

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